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The Biggest Post-Divorce Mistake

Updated on October 11, 2013

There are countless mistakes people make in divorce, from bungling the right financial decisions and going to court over custody battles that harm the children, to not knowing how to achieve an emotional divorce. But one of the largest mistakes they make is not waiting enough time before beginning a new relationship.

Assuming that the divorce was not a result of cheating, one of the worse mistakes a newly separated person makes is to enter into a new relationship before the ink is even dry on the divorce decree. While most people have some understanding of the ‘rebound effect’, not many understand the various components that make it up. Indeed, many are warned about rebounding into a new relationship, but without the reasoning that underpins the admonishment, lots of people can’t seem to resist hooking up with someone new. And simply not rebounding does little to move you towards a healthier new relationship.

Essentially, people rebound because of their high need for validation. The opposite of validation, of course, is invalidation. And anyone going through a divorce has their plate full of invalidation. It’s not just that your ex may be making statements, throwing hostile attitude your way, or talking smack to the kids about you, but the very fact that your relationship is breaking up represents a failure; who’s failure may be debatable, but in most cases, there is enough blame to go around.

Negative emotions surrounding separation divorce are tiring and debilitating. Most folks are searching for answers that are not readily available and are hungry for some relief of their intensely negative feelings. It does not take much to get excited about someone who either agrees with us, or becomes supportive. While perhaps not looking to find validation, most people rarely turn it away when it is offered. And what if that someone offering you validation during your tough time is also having a tough time (‘misery loves company’) and you become a mutually-validating team? That validation feels good is an understatement. Many people confuse validation with love, as in ‘if you are in my corner, you must really care and love me, and so I should care for and love you, too.’ But validation is not love. In relationship, validation can just be simple neediness. In addition, you cannot rule out that there are people in the world that can spot others who are vulnerable, and know just how to give them validation in a way that begins to manipulate them. That’s right, I’m talking about taking advantage of a person who is in need of validation.

Strong and accurate validation can make a person enter into the throes of infatuation. And infatuation is not just for teenage crushes, it happens to adults all the time. The good feelings of someone validating you (in your pain, in your relationship position, or about your strengths) can easily slide toward the slippery slope of infatuation. Brain and body chemicals begin to rush about, making your heart beat faster, blood pressure rise, and creating a decidedly wonderful tingly feeling in various parts of your thoughts and body. Those with some maturity can recognize that infatuation is not love, though it is often the first step towards love. Many people in the know say that infatuation lasts about three to four months.

But again, most people do not know this (or conveniently forget it), and run with the infatuation, thinking it is love. A vast majority of people enter into a sexual relationship before the infatuation has ended for this very reason. And when a person has sex with another person, something quite amazing happens: they tend to create a bond by doing so. One may at first conclude that such a bond sounds wonderful and positive, but that is only a reflection of our romantic ideas about love. Sex just creates a bond, and not necessarily a good one. Any adult who has been around the block a few times has experienced (sexual) relationships that imply or form an actual bond, only to find later that there is no real love present. Quite a quandary, right? And even more so just a few months after a separation or divorce. Most then find themselves in the curious position of ‘buyer’s remorse’, meaning just like after buying the car, on the way home, you get a funny feeling you may have made a mistake. And just like anyone with buyer’s remorse, you then work to convince yourself you have done the right thing in order to combat that bad feeling.

And so how to avoid this all too common mistake? Commit to a one year hiatus on romantic (read: sexual) relationship for one year. “One year! Is this guy crazy!?” Yes, a year, maybe even longer, if you need it. There are several tasks that you need to do with that time: to grieve, to engage in relationship forensics, to engage in personal growth and development, and then to jump into a bigger, cleaner pond of relationship possibilities.

Many people do not think about grief, or mourning when they are separating or divorcing because they are usually consumed by anger and resentment. While anger and resentments need to be processed to move on grief does too. Grief about what? About the ending of something you thought was going to work, once upon a time. Grief about the pain you have endured (and let’s be honest, created). Grief about having to start over, and missing the good times that were. And grief takes time. Most professionals say about, oh, (you guessed it) a year.

‘Relationship forensics’ means going back over the relationship and figuring out what went wrong and when it went wrong. It means calming yourself down and thinking clearly enough to take responsibility for your part in the failures. To do this, it is very wise to enlist the help of a qualified, trained counselor. Once these things are determined, the counselor then can help you to move on to personal growth and development in your understandings of adult long term relationships so that you will not repeat the errors of the failed relationship. While anger in the moment may tell you that it is your ex that is to fault for the failure and pain, ‘it takes two to tango’. I think it was Einstein who once said something to the effect: ‘Stupidity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results’. Take time to learn what went wrong, your part in it, and how to keep it from happening again.

But of course, such an endeavor represents hard work, some of which is extraordinarily hard. And many folks are averse to hard work. Or, they are just gamblers who do not realize the odds are always in the favor of the house. Your chances of hitting the Powerball are probably better than just dipping into the stream of lonely people and getting the best partner possible.

Many divorced folks complain that they cannot seem to find a new partner that is not just a reflection of the old one. They ask what they are doing wrong. I tell them that they are continuing to swim in the same small pond of relationship, and continue meet the same old ‘bottom feeders’ in that pond. If they want to find better fish, they need to get to the bigger, cleaner pond. And to do that, they have to be willing to do the work and face the challenges of swimming upstream.


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